Improving indoor air quality

Closing up your house during the cold winter months should not mean closing in a number of air quality pollutants.

Now that winter has made its first major appearance, many of us will spend more than half of our time indoors rather than outdoors. While homes and buildings are becoming more energy-efficient through sealing buildings against heat and cooling losses, this can impact the quality of the indoor air.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines indoor air quality (IAQ) as “the air quality within and around buildings and other structures especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.” Some indoor air pollutants can cause irritation, such as sore eyes, burning of the nose and/or throat, headaches or fatigue. Others may cause more serious reactions, including respiratory illness, allergies or other serious conditions.

Whether your home is new or old or you live in a single family home, an apartment or townhouse or duplex, there are actions you can take to improve your indoor air quality.

The primary cause of indoor air problems is sources that release gases or particles into the air, such as heating and cooking. Inadequate ventilation reduces the amount of outdoor air entering the home and can increase indoor air pollution levels. Some pollutants can also be increased by high humidity and temperature levels consistently in the home.

Some actions you can take to improve the air quality in your home without sacrificing energy efficiency include:

  • Change furnace filters regularly. This will reduce dust and particulates from recirculating in the air.
  • Increase fresh air indoors through improved ventilation. During winter months, crack windows for short periods of time to allow for cross ventilation. Use your bathroom or kitchen exhaust fans if they blow indoor air to the outside.
  • Check humidity levels regularly. Indoor humidity should range from 30 to 50 percent. An inexpensive humidity gauge can monitor the level. 
  • Use household cleaners and pesticides sparingly. Remember the inert ingredients may not be harmless.
  • Check carbon monoxide (CO) levels regularly. CO is an odorless, colorless gas that is not easily detectable but can be deadly.
  • Check radon levels. Radon is a naturally-occurring, radioactive gas found in many soils and rocks. Your county health department may have tests available or they can be purchased inexpensively.
For additional information:

For more detailed information on indoor air quality, visit Michigan State University Extension and search “indoor air quality”.

The EPA has information related to tribal communities and the impacts of air quality.

For more information on ways to improve indoor air quality, see MSU Extension’s Home Assessment Guide, available through your local Extension office.

The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality, available from the EPA.

Take a virtual tour of the EPA’s IAQ House.

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